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#897 Sally Kohn on conversations that lead to change

Sally Kohn

Sally Kohn; photo courtesy of her Web site

Sally Kohn is wiser than I am. I refuse to have anything to do with Fox News. OK, I confess on occasion I succumb to a suggestion from a friend and check out some particularly heinous commentary. “Know the enemy,” and all that.

Kohn does more than listen. The progressive lesbian actually makes regular appearances on Fox, debating people who, as she says, “want to obliterate everything I believe in…”

And that is why I say she is wiser than I am. She is practicing what she calls “emotional correctness”. As she says in her TED talk:

Emotional correctness is the tone, the feeling, how we say what we say, the respect and compassion we show one another. And what I’ve realized is that political persuasion doesn’t begin with ideas or facts or data. Political persuasion begins with being emotionally correct.

…[L]iberals on my side, we can be self-righteous. We can be condescending. We can be dismissive of anyone who doesn’t agree with us. In other words, we can be politically right but emotionally wrong.

We spend so much time talking past each other and not enough time talking through our disagreements, and if we can start to find compassion for one another, then we have a shot at building common ground.

I so quickly forget that wisdom in the middle of a heated discussion, at least when the topic is something I care deeply about. Kohn reminds me to do what I used to do back when I was a school librarian. Every year at least one parent went rabid over some book or magazine in the library. They never came directly to me. They contacted the principal or the superintendent’s office. The head honcho would give me a call and ask for my side of the story.

I always called the parents and asked them to bring in the offending article and have a conversation with me. The issue was never the book or magazine. That would have been simple. The issue was fear. They loved their children. They were afraid they could not protect them. Deep down, they knew banning some piece of printed material was no shield of armour in a dangerous world. But it was something more controllable than the forces that felt so threatening to them.

Those conversations lasted much longer than the hour I requested, and they moved me to tears. I never had to remove an item from the library because the parents never insisted after they had a chance to talk through their objections and their underlying fears.

And yet, I can be sitting with friends or acquaintances and go all self-righteous about some issue that is a touchstone for me. Clearly Wisdom and I are passing acquaintances, not bosom pals.

Thank you, Sally Kohn, for reminding me that searching for common ground does not require me to be a saint. It does ask me to practice listening deeply and at least try to be compassionate. It is worth the effort because, as you say, “That’s emotional correctness, and that’s how we start the conversations that really lead to change.”

You can follow Sally Kohn on Twitter, Facebook and half a dozen other social media sites.

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2 comments
nechakotess - December 30, 2013

“Respect the person becoming” is an Aboroginal precept. it means how we respond to others’ mistakes can help them learn or grow or confirm them in their mistake. I wish trolls would cease and desist and practice this instead because reading hateful comment sections after some wonderful article can be so demoralizing. …

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    Cathryn Wellner - December 31, 2013

    Agreed, Tess! Ugly comments cast a pall over some very thoughtful dialogue. When I was writing for Care2, I would quickly scan the comments for anything insightful and try to slide past the trolls. I am sure I missed some helpful feedback, but I could not let the trolls and their ugliness silence me.

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